Students play outside Monterey Middle School in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)

Students play outside Monterey Middle School in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)

COVID-19 exposure follows air filter’s removal from Oak Bay classroom

Greater Victoria School District won’t allow parent-provided air filter in child’s classroom

A Greater Victoria parent is infuriated after the school district removed a portable air filter she brought into her son’s classroom days before an exposure was announced.

Elizabete Costa wanted to bring the filter into her 10-year-old son’s Monterey Middle School classroom from the very start of the school year, but she was told by the Greater Victoria School District that they were waiting on direction from the public health authority. Costa held off, but within the first week of school her son had caught COVID-19, and a few days later so had she.

She said she continued to push the issue with the district and her son’s principal and continued to be told ‘no’. By mid-October, Costa decided to take matters into her own hands. She bought a portable HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter and brought it to her son’s classroom on Oct. 18, telling the principal she would purchase all the filters and change them herself if need be.

The next day, Costa was told her filter had been removed.

On Oct. 24, parents were informed that there had been an exposure in the classroom. Their children were at risk of having caught COVID-19 on Oct. 18, 19, 20 and 21 – the same week Costa’s filter was taken away.

READ ALSO: B.C. parents crowdsourcing COVID-19 school exposures in lieu of provincial information

In a statement, the district told Black Press Media Costa’s filter was removed because it doesn’t believe it’s necessary.

“After a thorough review and additional consultation with a mechanical engineering firm, it has been determined that a personal HEPA filter device in the classroom is not required,” the district said. Updates made to Monterey Middle School in 2016 equipped its filtration system with MERV-10 filters

MERV is a rating ranging from one to 16 that describes a filter’s ability to capture particles from the air. The 10 rating means the filter will capture 50 to 64.9 per cent of particles between 1.0 and 3.0 microns and 85-plus per cent of those between 3.0 and 10.0 microns, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A HEPA filter by comparison can remove up to 99.97 per cent of particles with a size of 0.3 microns and up.

In a ventilation system overview document for Monterey Middle School, a recommendation is made to the district’s facilities department to install MERV-13 filters where possible. It is turned down.

The district did not comment on its decision to continue with level 10 filters or on their lower efficiency rate compared to HEPA ones.

In its statement the district did note that the middle school classroom’s ventilators are making regular air exchanges and that BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines suggest it is possible to either under- or over-ventilate a space in a way that may affect transmission.

For Costa, she said she thinks the decision is political. She’s considering legal action.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria School District pondering pros, cons of staff vaccine mandate

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